Saturday, September 2, 2017

Houston Catastrophe Market Driven. But Let's Not Talk About That.

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Member Democratic Socialists of America

I follow Peggy Noonan’s column in the Wall Street Journal each week and it is always enjoyable reading. I watched the transformation during the election campaign and after Trump’s victory. Initially Noonan did what she is supposed to do, act as a cheerleader and cool-headed astute bourgeois propagandist. After the Trump victory and as he exposed himself further as the degenerate creature that he is, her initial appeals fell by the wayside and her criticism of Trump took on a nastier tone.

Trump is despised by the majority of the US ruling class, not for his misogyny and racism, but his undermining of their precious bourgeois democracy. This system of democracy, a capitalist democracy, is the safest and most secure form of class rule for them. Trump is threatening it; if the President of the US can abandon it or talk of it being illegitimate so can we. They will, if need be, move to military dictatorship if they have to but that is not preferable, the illusion of democracy is more stable and less costly and Fascism nearly ended it for them last time, they lost half of Europe and a huge chunk of Asia to Stalinism.

The situation has the US ruling class a little depressed to say the least. The country is in an economic and political crisis with social upheaval in the wings, on the edge of exploding on to the world stage with a vengeance. They want him gone but what can they do? The answer eludes them because their two political parties through which they have governed society for the last 100 years or so are unable to do so any longer. It is a truly global age and what happened to the Socialists and Communists in France, the Socialists in Greece and so on, is happening to the two traditional parties here in the US. Both Democrats and Republicans are discredited and both could split-----the Republicans between the Tea Baggers and old school conservatives and the Democrats with a left. break away.

The catastrophe in Texas, Louisiana and Houston the nation’s fourth largest city, threatens the post war stability even further.

Peggy Noonan’s column this week, The American Spirit Is Alive inTexas is another attempt to rally the troops, foster the illusion that we’re all in this together and that we’re a great nation and things will be OK.  Hurricane Harvey has flooded Houston. It has damaged the nation’s oil refining capability sending gas prices sky high. Refineries and chemical plants are exploding spewing toxic chemicals in to the air and also in to the trillions of gallons of water that has covered the surface of the earth.

Noonan warns her class colleagues in the body politic, “This is no time to threaten government shutdowns. It’s no time to be dilating on debt ceilings. This is the time to know as never before that everything that holds us together as a nation must be strengthened wherever possible, and whatever sinks us in rancor avoided and shunned.”

Noonan is good with the pen and she may have produced her most eloquent and ingratiating propaganda piece of the year.  It is a confirmation of the underlying fear and lack of self-confidence that is consuming the US capitalist class as it struggles through its worst crisis since World War Two. The danger is that the massive discontent and anger in US society will break in to the open and blossom in to a powerful united mass movement of workers and youth against capitalism.

The market driven tragedy in Texas and Louisiana has the potential to undermine their so-called democracy even further and it is this that Noonan is addressing.  “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”, Barack Obama’s buddy and former Israeli Defense Force man Rahm Emanuel once said. He was right, but in all such things, it’s not what is said so much but who said it and why.

Noonan is a calculated propagandist. “Most Americans, including Texans, don’t have more than a few hundred dollars in available savings….” she adds, showing how compassionate and aware she is about the plight of the working class and poor. “Most live close to the edge, paycheck to paycheck. Most homeowners in Houston don’t have flood insurance.”, she writes, and reminds her readers that even after it’s over,  “It will be misery for months…..”, homes will be unlivable, family members will be sick and so on. Such compassion and a keen understanding of what life is like for the average person and then such disaster like Harvey strikes, she’s a saint.

Noonan is no fool, she is an astute and thoughtful bourgeois propagandist, a loyal defender of her class and the capitalist system it governs. She has an understanding of the mood in society, the potential for social upheaval. She is, as she has throughout, warning her class to be careful don’t turn on each other, unity is what is important now such is the level of discontent and crisis in US society.

“When the trauma is over, there’ll be plenty of time for debate,” she tells her audience. Do we need to hold more in reserve for national disasters? Do local zoning laws need rethinking? All worthy questions—for later.”  She warns politicians not to “..use this disaster to score points or rub your ideology in somebody’s face…” she warns against a government shutdown that could make the suffering even worse. “Give Texas what it needs. Keep the government up and running. Don’t even consider doing otherwise.”, she implores them.

Raising the underlying cause of the crisis, climate change, lack of regulation or rational urban planning, market savagery, the rapacious quest for profits, this must not happen. “There is such a thing as tact….. an ability to apprehend another’s position or circumstances, and doing or saying the right thing.” she says. Under these conditions a show of unity and caring from the bourgeois is paramount. Of course, the time for debate will never come.  Like Katrina, or the BP spill in the waters offshore, they would rather this recede from memory unlike September 11th, a foreign plot that has been the basis for the War On Terror, US capitalism’s endless and open ended assault on the world.

Houston, being in Texas, has basically no serious regulation. The chemical and energy industry runs Texas. The federal regulators for deep water drilling allowed the energy companies to write theirown rules and fill them out in pencil.  The catastrophic BP accident in the Gulf that killed 13 workers and poured millions of gallons of oil into the water was a product of this self-regulation.  But we must not talk of that. There must now only be stories of how we all stick together and how communities help each other out. This is a human tendency not a US one.

That Texas and Houston, a first world city and state are experiencing market disasters at a level normally reserved for less developed countries of the former colonial world, concerns Noonan and her class greatly and they know that the working class will tire of it. How much more can they take before striking back with vengeance? 

The ongoing crises in society as a whole is threatening to undermine military cohesion as well and Noonan drags out US defense Secretary Jim Mattis to boost military morale and also soothe fears at home.

Mattis gave a pep talk to some the troops while in Jordan a week or so ago according to Noonan. He thanked them for “being out here”  and that he knows of their sacrifice when they could “…all be going to college you young people…”  Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, of being friendly to one another. That’s what Americans owe to one another—we’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.” Mattis told them, adding that “The only way this great big experiment you and I call America is gonna survive is if we’ve got tough hombres like you. . . . We don’t frickin’ scare, that’s the bottom line.”

Of course, most young workers sign up in order to get some help in going to college. And unemployment is always a good thing for the military industrial complex as the military then becomes one of the few and sometimes only option. Joining the military is good if there’s not a war on. Mattis’ comment that “we don’t frickin’ scare” is just macho bullshit, and an insult to any worker in uniform to be honest. Mattis then compounds his lies by telling these troops that the only reason he came out of retirement was, “…. to serve alongside young people like you, who are so selfless and frankly so rambunctious.”

Noonan, in her most sickening attempt yet to obscure the fact that there is someone to blame for this crisis or that the C word might arise (Climate Change) says of Mattis’ speech that, “This was the voice of true moral authority, authority earned through personal sacrifice. Speeches like that come only from love.”

From Mattis’ “Hold the Line” speech (what line is it that they’re holding in Jordan?) in Jordan Noonan links right back, “…to selfless and frankly rambunctious Texas” with a paragraph or two of wonderful stories about cooperation and unity in the face of adversity and tragedy. All workers know about this, we don’t often write about it. I was involved as a public utility worker during the Loma Prieta earthquake and the great Oakland fire and all my co-workers showed concern for the victims of these disasters.  I've worked with firefighters and seen the dangers they expose themselves to. They are under attack as overpaid workers and firefighting facilities are cut. It is natural for working people and our communities to help each other out. It’s not something rare no matter what country we are in. I saw it in England a few months ago as I stayed only a short distance away from the Grenfell Tower tragedy. We see it in Africa and throughout the world all the time.

It is not that pointing to solidarity and people of all races, religions and nationalities helping each other is a bad thing. The tremendous display of human cooperation we see in Houston is a wonderful aspect of human character. But why is Noonan and the capitalist mass media flooding the airwaves with it?  It is a cover, an attempt to obscure the cause of the catastrophe and also to avoid the class anger that exists within society if we talk about the cause. There are explosive situations everywhere. Poison water in our cities and rural communities, racism and sexism and a growing movement against these issues.  Environmental disasters and pollution are ongoing and wages, benefits, health care housing, these are all issues dominating people’s minds. The Native American population just had a major civil war with the energy companies.

On our weekly conference call today a comrade gave an example of an arsonist setting fire to a neighborhood and the community coming together to help each other as we do. But would we not ask the question “Who is the arsonist?”  Of course we would. The arsonist or responsibility for this disaster in Texas and Louisiana is capitalism. It is Noonan and her class colleagues. It is the politicians in the two capitalist parties and the CEO’s of the energy and corporate world that bribe them to pass laws that allow capital to function in a completely unregulated and unrestrained way. This is what Noonan’s commentary is about, avoiding the issue of the arsonist. Mattis’ pep speech is the same; don’t ask why we’re there what we are doing. Don’t think for yourself. The problem is, people do think for themselves. They just don’t know what to do about what they think. But it’s inconceivable that there’s not a crisis brewing in the US military.

It’s like I wrote at the time of the Fukushima disaster. What working person would support building four nuclear reactors near the ocean in an area know as the Ring of Fire due to its earthquake and volcanic activity? We wouldn’t.

Noonan compares Houston to Dunkirk and ends with an emotional reminder: “We are a great nation. We forget. But what happened in Texas reminded us. It said: My beloved America you’re not a mirage, you’re still here.”” If they’d done only that, they’d deserve whatever they need .They held the line.

But it’s getting harder these appeals to patriotism and nationalism and their phony caring.  In its competition with its rivals, especially China and Russia, US capitalism spends billions of dollars of our tax money bribing corrupt regimes, funding wars and selling weapons of mass destruction. It borrows billions more. It is this that is driving the capitalist offensive at home cutting living standards back decades, cutting social services, public sector jobs and services.  This will not stop unless we stop it. And it is only a united working class movement that can stop it. We can see that none of us can escape the catastrophe of climate change. If you have children or grandchildren and love them; you are obligated to fight to change things; how can we not. The energy industry should be taken in to public ownership and how we use energy produced in a planned and rational way in harmony with nature. For a world federation of democratic socialist states.

Updated 10:am 9-3-17

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